Sunday, November 29, 2009

A HALS Adventure Vacation

Last May I planned a “HALS Adventure Vacation” and selected several possible sites to visit along a looped route that would take us north to Arcata/Trinidad, then east to Redding, and further east to Yuba Pass where we stayed at Bassetts – a favorite place for birding – another interest of ours. Along the way we visited eleven historic sites. I wrote up HALS forms for four and have one yet to finish for the Point Cabrillo Light Station.

Our first stop was Fort Ross, featured in my banner and October 11, 2009 post. The most interesting site though was the 700 acre Mendocino Woodlands State Park located in the Jackson State Forest about 8 miles east of Highway One. The site is long, narrow and steeply sloped. See map of camp 1 above.

The first building encountered is the dining/recreation room. The kitchen has a high, beam ceiling with a skylight, and off that central space there are two dining areas each with its own stone fireplace. From the kitchen, double doors lead out onto stone steps and an outdoor eating area. This building and all of the others at the camp were built in the 1930s by the WPA and CCC, which were created by President Roosevelt during the depression. All are constructed of old growth redwood milled from the site. Even the tables and bench seats in the dining hall were constructed by the CCC crews.

Below the dining building is an amphitheater constructed in a traditional semi-circle, with Redwood stumps that mark the corners of the “stage”, and the Redwood forest as a “back drop”. The theater benches are in two groups divided by timber steps. Each bench is made of Redwood logs topped with a rounded slab of Redwood. There is a 3’ diameter fire ring at the center of the amphitheater.
Camping is in individual cabins that are identical throughout. Each has a small (3’ x 4’) stone porch, space for 4 cots, a small closet, a small porch, and a stone fireplace. Cabins are spaced about 30-40 feet apart, and at different levels, with footpaths connecting them. Between the paths understory plantings of fern, grasses, blue-eyed grass, Douglas Iris, Vaccinium, and Gaultheria provide a lush understory.

The camp was one of 46 similar camps built around the country that included Camp David – the president’s retreat. “It was conceived to provide a setting that would introduce the public to the wonders of nature” according to the Mendocino Woodlands Camp Association website history. This is the only one of the original camps that has been maintained and continuously used for its original purpose. It was given to the people of California with the mandate that it be used for group camping and environmental education. A non-profit group was organized in 1949 to manage the park, and in 1976 Mendocino Woodlands became a State Park. National Historic Landmark status was granted in 1997.

Visiting these historic sites with the intent of doing a HALS inventory form really enhanced the trip for me. I made a greater effort to really see, explore and understand what I was seeing and what was important about it. Rather than just give a cursory look at exhibits I studied them carefully leaving with a deeper understanding and appreciation for our California history.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Alameda Naval Air Station - A WWII Landscape

One year ago PGA was invited to prepare the HALS drawings for Doyle Drive at the Presidio in San Francisco, and since then I’ve been possessed with the project. Doyle is the single largest contract PGA has had in 30 years. It is a large, complex project that required an innovative approach to observing, recording and depicting the landscape. As we are coming close to completing our work I’ve begun to fret that Doyle would prove to be the peak of my career and nothing else would measure up.

Then about a month ago PGA got a call from JRP Historical Consulting inviting us to assist them with a Cultural Landscape Report (CLR) for Alameda Naval Air Station (NAS). And, with one phone call, I fell in love with a new project. Somehow, I feel like I am two-timing Doyle. How could I be “dating” NAS when I am still “engaged” with Doyle? But who would not admire those sentry-like Italian Cypress guarding the entry to Building 17? How could I not flirt with the amusing Hollywood Junipers that flank the old Post office door? And, who would not swoon at the sight of those big, strong Rusty Leaf Figs by the Bachelors Officers Quarters?

Alameda NAS is a collection of landscape types. The Administrative Core is formal with bilateral symmetry and a strong axial alignment. The entry sequence includes 3 large panels of lawn creating a mall similar to the Washington Mall. All of the buildings, roads, sidewalks, paths and much of the planting are laid out in an orthogonal pattern. NAS was the last military base to be designed as part of the whole base design system where the architect, planner and landscape architect worked collaboratively to plan and layout an efficient and functional base. These buildings were built as permanent structures and reflect the architectural style of their time – a hybrid of Art Deco and Moderne design.

The residential area is sub-divided into 4 housing types that reflect the status of different grades of military personnel. Curving streets, expanses of lawn, and an abundance of trees convey a park-like setting. The remainder of the base has a utilitarian landscape designed to facilitate its primary purpose to prepare and maintain aircraft during World War II. Spaces are massive – sometimes the size of multiple football fields laid side by side – without obstructions. Buildings and doors are monumental in scale, designed to allow an airplane to roll in the front door.

A Cultural Landscape Report is not HALS. It is another type of documentation for a historically significant landscape – in this case a site associated with our involvement with WWII, and subsequent military operations, including the Cold War. While our work at NAS is not HALS it is an important historic landscape and certainly is worthy of recordation under the HALS program.

Currently, what I am doing is recording the existing conditions for this 1750 acre site. I am mapping the locations of trees and vegetation (lawn and foundation shrubs). I am taking notes about other landscape improvements by feature type – circulation, hardscape features, buildings and structures, views and vistas, monuments, and spatial organization. And, I am photographing the features. With the existing conditions information, PGA will prepare a series of diagrams that illustrate the major components of the site, as it exists today: vegetation, circulation, and land use. PGA will contribute to the assessment and analysis; we will identify character defining features, and write Treatment Recommendations for the future use of the base. All of this is one part of an elaborate base closure process, and the transition of what this site will be in the future.

If you’ve never visited Alameda NAS I recommend it. It is a stunning landscape steeped in history. You’ll find extraordinary views of San Francisco and the Port of Oakland. You can visit the USS Hornet and the base museum. It is a great place to see a large variety of mature tree species, great architecture, and would be a perfect place to teach someone to drive, because it is flat and there are very few cars out there.

This post is dedicated to the World's Best Dog, Beauregard who died today at 17 - that is 119 in dog years. Beau was a mixed-bread dog we got from Hopalong Rescue. He was a perfect dog, who visited most of the historic sites with us. He will be missed.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

HALS Documentation - What's involved? Part 2

The Northern California Chapter of HALS has completed documentation for three historic sites – the Kaiser Roof Garden (top photo, taken by Tom Fox) in downtown Oakland, Piedmont Way (2nd Photo) in Berkeley, and the Mary Burdell Victorian Garden at Olompali State Historic Park, in Marin County. To see the documentation for these sites visit the HALS Chapter website. Go to “Landscapes”, click on Alameda or Marin County, and then look for the site by City.

The National Park Service donated the services of Brian Grogan, who photographed all three sites using a large format camera and black and white film, which complies with HALS Guidelines for Photography. The written narrative for Piedmont Way was researched and written by HALS member Michael Crowe and funded by a donation from the SWIG Company. Member, Carol Roland did the history for the Mary Burdell Garden and found it to be eligible for the National Register. Her work was funded by a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Marlea Graham is doing the history of the Kaiser Roof Garden.

Several members of the PGA staff contributed to the HALS drawings for these 3 sites but it was Cate Bainton who pulled everything together. The documentation of the Burdell Garden will ultimately lead to the garden’s restoration, which is another reason for doing HALS. Part of the research involved studying historic photos, and then conducting field investigations to locate remnants of paths and other features. Archaeologists from Sonoma State confirmed the locations of paths.

HALS Documentation - What's involved?

Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) documentation has three components – a written history, drawings and photography. The part that I am most familiar with is the drawings. My firm, PGAdesign has completed HALS drawings for three sites, and is actively engaged in preparing drawings for Doyle Drive at the Presidio in San Francisco. The photos in this posting are from Doyle Drive.

HALS Guidelines for each component describe how to prepare the documentation. The Guidelines for drawings, lists several different types of drawings that can be used to illustrate a particular landscape. The difficulty is that the guidelines were written to be used for all types of landscapes – from a small, formal residential garden to the White House grounds. The challenge is to select what drawings will best convey what a landscape looks like.

In the case of Doyle Drive, which is a large (1.2 mile long) and complex landscape, we are preparing several different types of drawings. The vegetation plans show trees and shrubs. Unique graphic symbols are used for different species of trees. Shrubs are categorized by size – low, medium and high. Species are listed in a plant list.

Our “Built Environment Plans” show “hardscape” features, i.e. Walls, paving, stairs, ramps, fences, etc. Another set of drawings illustrate views. The external views diagram shows what can be viewed outside the site – like the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and the East Bay Hills. Three internal views diagrams highlight what can be see within the site, including the national cemetery, the historic stables buildings, and the batteries. A battery is where the artillery was mounted to defend the presidio.

The existence of the bluff, that overlooks the bay, is one of the strategic reasons why the presidio is located where it is. This bluff provided an elevated vantage point to see enemy ships. It also divides the presidio topographically. Crissy Field is just slightly above high tide while most of the presidio is elevated above the bluff. Today, the presidio is no longer a military facility. It is a national park and recreation area, so the new design for Doyle Drive includes re-grading, to better connect the upper and lower portions of the site. Portions of the bluff will be cut down by this grading and an important feature will no longer exist. Capturing the bluff and recording it, is important to understanding this site. Our section drawings, being completed by Janet Grayck, illustrate the topography of the landscape. These drawings show the bluff and the relationship between the upper and lower portions of the site.

Ultimately, these drawings along with the written narrative and HALS photographs will reside at the Library of Congress accessible to future researchers, and to the public online. Our drawings will show what the landscape around Doyle Drive was like in 2009, before it was changed. In this way, a piece of our national heritage is being preserved, which is one answer to the question, “What is the purpose of HALS?”

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Trees of Mountain View Cemetery - A Self-Guided Tour

It’s Fall and the Dawn Redwood at Oakland’s Mountain View Cemetery is just starting to turn to deep yellow. The Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) is one of three types of Redwoods found at Mountain View cemetery and the only one that is deciduous (loses its leaves). This pre-historic species is native to China and is one of a very few deciduous conifers. Learn about how the Dawn Redwood was discovered in an article on the Arnold Arboretum website.

Download Trees of Mountain View Cemetery – A Self-Guided Tour and go see the fall color soon. As of Friday November 5th the Dawn Redwood was just hinting at changing color as were the Copper Beech in front of the main mausoleum and the Japanese Maples in the sunken garden. The Red Maple and Ash are already past their prime, but the Gingko, Sweetgum, Poplar, Tulip Tree and Dogwood are all at their peak.

Mountain View Cemetery is one of Oakland’s most important historic landscapes because it was designed by Frederic Law Olmsted, the person known as “The Father of Landscape Architecture”. Olmsted is best known as the designer of New York’s Central Park. Mountain View is significant because it was one of the earliest detached cemeteries in the United States and as such set a new standard for burial places.

If you prefer a guided tour make a note to join me on Saturday April 24th, 2010 at 10:00 AM. Spring is also a wonderful time to see Mountain View’s trees.
Top Photo: Dawn Redwood
Middle: Sweet Gum along main allee
Bottom: Tulip Tree